Monday, August 13, 2007
I'm two-thirds through Babylon's Burning: From Punk to Grunge by Clinton Heylin. It's real heavy on the UK scene history, who went to art school with whom, who managed whom, and all the ideologies and clothing fashions that people cooked up. The book deals more frequently with lesser known UK bands than it does lesser known bands from American scenes. It proves again that The Damned sparked as many bands by touring over here as the Sex Pistols did acting bratty on tv. Two-thirds along and we're still going practically month by month in the UK with he Pistols and The Clash, while somehow we are going to end up with Nirvana, Seattle, gigantic piles of money--and--The Fluid. I don't know if he'll mention The Fluid. Or that Killdozer cleared the decks for grunge, and were from Wisconsin. (Midwest bias.)
The UK tilt doesn't bug me that much. I just thought I'd point it out, while I crank some Volcano Suns and make black bean soup. Reading about Wire got me listening to Chairs Missing, amplified by reading this book, and that's what it's all about. How a band so primitive changed so much by their second record is a trip. (I don't think they were an ex-pub rock band who pretended not to know what they were doing for a year.) And the punkest song on there (due to context within the album and the culture at the time) is one of the greatest pure pop songs of all time, "Outdoor Miner," a proto-REM jangler, a bird-flip to the thugs if ever there was one. So what the f is punk, anyway? Open-mindedness, moving on, the presumption that things decline--so you don't pander with a bunch of fakey crapola--and reinvention. Working in the present with what is at hand, without a heavy mindset about what the rules are. (And yes, it's about WORKING.) A garage-specific version of beginner's mind. I mean, that's what it means to me.
I'm not sure grunge is a logical conclusion for the end history of punk, although it might be a logical choice as an example of punk inspiration being something that regularly runs its course and implodes due to commercial pressure and ordinary humanity. No Steel Wheels tour. Something current like LCD Soundsystem seems "as punk" to me as a bunch of bands imitating The Melvins and Sweet for eighteen months back in the 90's. The Melvins are still making weird, off the cuff, funny, virtuosically heavy and menacing records. They're a punk band. But you have to choose an endpoint for any history from then-to-then.